By Janet Groene, F47166
Recently I spoke with two RV industry executives who assess customers’ needs and wants and translate them into product design: Luc Van Herle, motorhome product planning manager for Fleetwood Enterprises, and Patrick Carroll, vice president of product development at Monaco Coach Corporation. I found their comments very interesting.
Van Herle was in the midst of his annual look into a crystal ball to see what motorhomes will look like five years from now. “We’re now in the long-promised transition to a market composed chiefly of baby boomers,” he told me. “Their RV usages and expectations are completely different. At one time, RVing was a lifestyle that took place in the campground. Today’s buyer may use the RV only as a support vehicle for another lifestyle. A family might, for example, use the motorhome to tow a trailer of ATVs and spend the day at the dunes. Or a family goes to the dog show; the ski slopes; or a lake where everyone goes water-skiing.”
So what does this mean about the RV of the future, the one that could be your home someday?
Of course, you’ll always be able to order the motorhome of your dreams, but it may be far different from the coach you think you want. “Think residential,” Van Herle said repeatedly. “Go to a design center or home show. What’s hot there is what is hot in RV living. Galleys are getting smaller, because today’s families would rather devote more space to a home theater.” He sees tomorrow’s motorhome as having one-and-a-half and maybe even two complete galleys; one indoors and the other outside under the awning, where a refrigerator, a grill, an entertainment center, and perhaps a sink slide out from the basement storage compartments. “People with, say, a 40-foot motorhome don’t want eight linear feet devoted to a galley they use only 30 to 40 minutes a day,” he said.
“Five years ago, we introduced the two-burner stove in our motorhomes and we were almost tarred and feathered,” Van Herle recalled. “Today we can’t give away a conventional stove. People want a couple of burners and a microwave-convection oven, period. Countertop appliances are out, too. There are just too many choices, so we put in a lot of outlets and allow customers to choose for themselves what kind of coffeemaker to buy or whether they want a toaster oven or pop-up toaster. We don’t sell a motorhome without a generator. People want more household appliances, more battery banks, larger inverters.”
Many new features from the household market have migrated to motorhomes. For example, ice makers are now found in most RV refrigerators, which are often side-by-side models. Also increasing in popularity is the over-and-under refrigerator with two-thirds of the space devoted to refrigeration on top, with the bottom third offering a pull-out freezer drawer. “I see the day when (these refrigerators) will be the norm,” Van Herle said. He added that inverters and battery banks are expensive, but household appliances are much cheaper than gas and 12-volt-DC models, so many buyers will consider it a fair trade-off to require full-time 110-volt-AC capability from either a generator, shore power, or an inverter.
Van Herle admitted that several issues are impossible to predict. For example, there is little consensus on the type of sinks that will be in vogue five years from now. Today’s most popular options “” stainless steel, solid surface, and porcelain “” are a matter of customer preference. And, Van Herle has found, there always will be some cooks who prefer that the galley overlook the street side and others who want a view to the curb side. “So, we offer a large choice of layouts,” he said. He also envisions the return of the walk-through galley with the traditional work triangle of sink, stove, and refrigerator opposite each other instead of in a straight line.
Laundry machines are still a matter of motorhome price, he said. They’re not common on inexpensive units but almost always are found on Fleetwood’s top-of-the-line models. “We are rethinking this, though,” Van Herle noted. “Laundry doesn’t figure into the boomer weekend lifestyle. Of those customers who want a laundry, separate machines are in; combination machines are on the way out.”
Tile is not as popular, except for the backsplash. Solid-surface materials (Corian, for example) are the hands-down favorite, but granite, despite its heavy weight, receives plenty of attention from today’s buyers. Galley floors are no longer carpeted, but wood has its own problems. Fleetwood recommends ceramic tile or a top-grade linoleum product, which doesn’t present problems with seams or grout. Cabinets, too, are following household trends with more adjustable shelves and pull-out bins. Slideout galleys are important today, and Van Herle sees them remaining that way.
Dishwashers continue to be unpopular, because of the space they take up, but a drawer-style dishwasher from New Zealand is catching on with many Fleetwood buyers. “We’re now doing dishwashers in only about one percent of our motorhomes,” Van Herle said. “But I see that going to six or seven percent in the next five years.”
Fleetwood is generous with its water tank capacities, Van Herle said, and he doesn’t foresee increasing them. “Customers are becoming more astute about weight. Any vehicle can carry just so much, and water is heavy. My job is to read between the lines, balancing expectations with what the chassis can safely carry and then educating buyers to these realities.”
Monaco’s Patrick Carroll is a favorite with many RVers who attend his “Ladies Only” seminars at the company’s owner rallies. Women talk about what they want in a motorhome, and he listens. “Only about 15 percent of our high-end coaches are all-electric,” he told me. “Propane remains very popular. However, the conventional gas stove is out. Cooks want a two-burner cooktop, a combination microwave-convection oven, and a full-featured, 110-volt-AC household refrigerator with 18 or 20 cubic feet of space.”
He said that Monaco customers also want elegance and are willing to pay for it. Carroll said the company offers an optional $1,200 system that treats the motorhome’s potable water, then adds ozone for the utmost water quality. He indicated that today’s motorhomers also want more detail on the cabinetry and more efficient storage using the best, easiest-running drawer and pantry slides. Counters may have a raised, drip-proof edge; sinks may have a built-in soap dispenser; and faucet sets are top of the line, with a high spigot and a pull-out sprayer. Monaco customers prefer a freestanding dining set to a built-in dinette and they prefer to eat indoors in bug-free, climate-controlled comfort.
“There is still demand for tile floors, but they aren’t the best flooring choice in a moving, flexing vehicle,” Carroll said. “We like Wilsonite’s laminate, a wood flooring that is easy to clean and very forgiving about nicks and wear. Everyone wants solid-surface counters and patterned tile backsplashes. We rarely use mirrors any more. They’re hard to keep clean. They do make a coach look larger, but today’s models, with three and four slideouts, are bigger.”
He said that built-in vacuum systems have also become quite popular. In addition, most top-of-the-line Monaco motorhomes have a stacked washer and dryer laundry center. Combination washer-dryers, which presented venting problems in their early years, are now the choice of many buyers. “Lastly, we do a lot with lighting,” Carroll said. “No more dark corners.” Motorhomers want living quarters that are handsome, even regal, with durability and cleanability.
Like Van Herle, Carroll sees a big pull-back in the addition of small appliances to the galley. With such a profusion of models on the market, he finds it best to leave counters empty and let buyers decide for themselves about a toaster, blender, cappuccino maker, food processor, waffle iron, bread maker, and so on. Part-timers may want to carry different appliances on different trips, while full-timers can decide what appliances they’ll use most for their personal lifestyle. Gone is the built-in coffeemaker that was seen in almost every coach a few years ago. It’s available, but is far from standard equipment.
Tomorrow’s motorhome will be more comfortable, more durable, and more spacious than ever for the army of full-timers that Pat Carroll sees growing larger each year. It seems there never has been a better time to choose a motorhome for a full-time home and to hit the road.
Books for travelers
The best new book about traveling with pets is Cruising With Your Four-Footed Friends: the Basics of Travel with Your Cat or Dog ($19.95, Seaworthy Publications) by Diana Jessie. Although the book is aimed at boat owners, it’s a winner for those who travel with pets. It’s a pleasant read for anyone who loves stories about pets and/or adventure travel. Second, it’s filled with tips, resources, and expert advice, much of it applicable to the RVer. If you puzzle about pet manicures, poison hazards, barking, marking, heat stress, toilet training a cat, foreign travel with pets, and the thousands of other things that traveling pet lovers need to know, this 197-page book is a 24-carat gem. It can be purchased from bookstores, from online booksellers, or from the publisher’s Web site at www.seaworthy.com.